WATER. Without it, we as human beings would cease to exist. That’s not a political viewpoint, it’s an unequivocal fact. Whatever a person’s political stripe, we can all at least agree on that, just as we can agree no-one should be deprived of access to clean water. Or can we?

Apparently not as far as the UK Government is concerned if the latest leaked memo is anything to go by. Once again, here we have the Tory Government behaving true to form, lashing out at the poorest and most vulnerable by slashing overseas funding by more than 80% for the lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene projects that exist across developing nations.

If ever a decision tells us all we need to know about the way this government thinks and acts this, is it. Yes, I know there have been no shortage of cuts here closer to home and the persistent prevalence of food banks is but one dire testimony to the state of the nation created by the Tories. However, this latest move somehow truly epitomises the ethos of a government that mounting evidence confirms daily to be utterly callous.

Putting aside the humanitarian indifference and moral repugnance of depriving countless people of the clean water to which everyone should have access, this is also a policy of indescribable stupidity.

As Tim Wainwright, the chief executive of the charity WaterAid, rightly pointed out yesterday, while “there is never a good time to cut lifesaving water and sanitation, to do so now in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years must be one of the worst”.

If self-interest is the motive for making such cuts, why can’t the Tories see that the actual provision of overseas aid serves that purpose, not least if the pandemic remains uncontrolled in developing countries? We are, after all, globally impacted by the virus and its existence anywhere is a threat to all of us.

READ MORE: UK to slash funding for overseas clean water projects, leaked memo reveals

What’s more, lack of access to water can lead to instability and unrest in places where political and social structures are already brittle. Helping avoid that instability and depriving those who would take advantage of the power vacuums it brings about – as Islamist-inspired extremists and terrorists have done in various places – sounds to me as pragmatic a reason as any for ensuring a commitment to overseas aid.

From personal experience of covering humanitarian crises across the world, I know all too well how politically contentious an issue foreign aid can be for some here at home. It’s understandably hard sometimes for many people to comprehend why the UK should be providing aid to countries that on the face of it appear comparatively comfortable or well off.

Why should UK overseas aid go to nations such as China or India that can afford space programmes or spend a fortune on their armed forces? Why should we cough up for the failings of a predatory political leadership and corrupt regimes that appear unconcerned about the plight of their own citizens? These are only two of the many questions I’ve often been asked about such policies.

The short answer to both is that yes, there needs to be a careful evaluation of how aid is distributed. Transparency and accountability, too, must be part of the understanding on which it is given. But humanitarianism must not be trumped just because we might find aspects of a country’s government or leadership disagreeable.

You can also bet that it’s not as if the cash “saved” from depriving the world’s poorest of clean water will go towards alleviating the plight faced by the most vulnerable here in the UK whatever spin Downing Street puts on it. 

THAT has never been the Tory way and right now it’s more unlikely than ever with a government inhabited by those who see the public fiscal well as one they can dip into at will or on a whim.

Irrespective of money “saved”, as the recent suffering in India has starkly revealed as it struggles to find hospital beds and oxygen to cope with the overwhelming number of coronavirus cases, turning our back is sometimes not an option.

Call me naive if you like, but sometimes there is simply the need to do the right thing by our fellow human being on this fragile planet and helping provide safe and clean water is one of them.

Even Tories such as former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell MP admit that “access to water and sanitation is consistently the UK public’s top priority when polled about what aid should be spent on”.

Heaven knows, if our political leaders in the UK Government can’t see the moral and practical certitude in that, then it’s high time we replaced them with those who can.

In answering the doubters as to what difference the provision of something such as clean water can make to countless lives, I would simply ask them to try going without it themselves for a time. This, too, without facing a shortage of other necessities like food and shelter as so many of our fellow global citizens do.

I so wish those doubters could be transported if only even for minutes to those barren, unforgiving places in parts of Niger, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and many other places I’ve visited to see for themselves the colossal difference clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects make to the lives of ordinary people. These people often couldn’t care less about politics, let alone the global variety, given their unavoidable preoccupation with making sure their families don’t go thirsty, have enough food to eat, or stay clean to prevent the ravages of disease.

Some years ago, while in South Sudan I spoke with a group of children who spent most of their entire days fetching water. They told me how they rose at dawn walked a round trip of 15 miles in oven-like heat carrying buckets and drums lashed to their backs to the only well with safe clean water in their area.

Every day they did this, some as young as eight years old; a life sentence of back-breaking labour. Not to do so daily would mean giving up on life itself.

That well, like countless others around the world, was paid for and built by money ordinary people like you and I provided through donations and taxes. As far as I’m concerned that’s money well spent and no Tory or any other politician will convince me to the contrary.